It’s a pleasure to welcome back an old favourite, the DiVA A90; a member of Arcam’s ‘Digitally integrated Video and Audio’ range. Mention of video may already have some diehard stereoheads preparing to run for the hills, but fear not, as the multi-channel features are all part of an optional extra – an add-on that gives you multiple input and output channels.
The A90 is a stereo piece of kit, in many ways a typical line-level integrated with seven inputs, preout, twin speaker terminals and so on.
Like many of its ilk, it offers a phono stage as an optional extra, in this case without losing a line input as the requisite socket occupies an otherwise blanked hole. There are two ‘tape’ recorder outputs and a rear-panel switch that disconnects the pre and power sections. This allows the power amp to be used separately, or a processor can be inserted between the two.
Arcam has also used the wonders of digital control technology to implement tone and balance controls and various display options. The menu system is pretty straightforward and we particularly liked the choice of three volume steps and ‘thermometer’ or numeric display of level. A headphone socket and separate switching for each speaker output rounds out the A90’s all-purpose image.
Inside the unit, is a generous mains transformer and heatsink, which looks more than adequate to allow all-day high-level listening even in the hottest climates. Bolted to the latter are a single pair per channel of high-speed power transistors (bipolar, not FET), which are driven by a circuit using a mix of discrete transistors and integrated circuits, almost entirely surface-mounted on the circuit boards. The preamp section has its own board, with high-grade electronic switching, volume control and tone control circuits.
Reading through the comments made by our panel of ‘blind’ listeners during the main subjective test of the amps, we came to the conclusion that this amp’s place in the scheme of things is definitely in proportion to its price - one of the less impressive units but also one of the cheapest. It was also generally felt that there wasn’t much wrong with the amp’s basic performance, with largely neutral tonality, and broadly plausible dynamics.
What did seem to concern our listeners, though, was a slight lack of musical communication. Comments on ‘clinical’ presentation, low levels of emotional involvement and, worst of all, boredom definitely point that way. Bass seemed less present than with some of the others in the test. Treble was a shade over-bright and detail rather smudged. On the other hand, the sound was for the most part quite relaxed, but imaging was good.
Detail is certainly not the best and considering the pricetag, we’d have been surprised if it was. But the musical impact may be down to the A90’s self-effacing, low-profile nature and the contrast it makes with the relatively upbeat, more forthright, presentation of most of the other test models. It’s very much a question of taste, and so we’re happy to report that this is an amp well suited to those who want to hear, not their hi-fi, but their music.